I love the traditions of English village fairs and festivals, and last weekend we went to a great one: the fifth annual Alresford watercress festival. Yes, a whole festival devoted to this gracious and peppery vegetable - and why not? As the festival program informed me, watercress put Alfresford in Hampshire on the map, sending trainloads of the stuff up to Covent Garden market every day. I also learned that watercress was cultivated by Hippocrates in 400BC to treat his patients, that it contains mustard oils which give it its peppery taste, and that people used to eat it in sandwiches between the wars. The industry drooped a bit later in the twentieth century, but now that watercress has been labelled a superfood, it's back with a vengeance, complete with the slogan 'not just a bit on the side'.
Alresford (pronounced 'Allsford') is as beautiful a small rural town setting as you could hope for for a community festival, especially in last weekend's sun. I have a friend who lives there and he had raved about it so much that we decided to make the trip down from Warwickshire to visit him and see what it was all about. I think he panicked a bit that he'd built it all up a bit much and started mumbling about pond weed and watercress beer, but he needn't have worried (I can get excited about a lot less than cress). The Scientist grew up in north Hampshire so he got positively dewy eyed on the trip down, reminiscing about cricketing glories with his dad, and we even started calculating just how far one could commute to work (not THAT far, we decided). The town's main street was cordoned off and was lined with stalls selling watercress goodies galore. I was all up for anything weird, but sadly the watercress ice cream was off the menu this year. There was a lot of meat about, so I went for some watercress and chilli fudge (very hot!), a watercress scone (very green) and a watercress and coriander flatbread (very tasty). The Scientist shunned the watercress beer (actually it was far too hot to contemplate alcohol of any sort), but we both tried a little taster of watercress and tomato panacotta and a watercress flapjack from one of the local restaurants (very....interesting). We missed Anthony Worrall Thompson's cooking demonstration in favour of catching up with my friend at a riverside pub, but did see the watercress bug stilt-walkers and some morris men (I love morris dancing - it just sums up English country fairs). Sadly we were too late for the watercress eating contest - one of the few such contests where you use up more calories than you take in, I suspect.
I also, of course, bought some watercress to take home, and here's what some of it turned into: watercress, potato and goat's cheese tortellini. I used wonton wrappers for the pasta, and just blitzed up some cold baked potato flesh, some chopped cress and a mixture of cottage cheese and goat's cheese. I even managed to fold them into a sort of tortellini shape. I steamed them and we had them with a tomato relish and the Slayer Tombstones and garlic dip I blogged about yesterday. They were yum - the filling had a nice creamy consistency and the combination of cress and goats cheese worked really well. In fact the 'grass' around the tombstones was watercress as well, and I also put some in my vanilla bread, fig relish and goats cheese sandwiches (I really have been eating them most days this week!).
Alresford Watercress festival: www.watercress.co.uk